With the passing of the great Rutger Hauer, so finally departs the residual soul of Roy Batty, possibly the most poetic hero in all of science fiction.
I have sunk countless hours into repeat viewings of Blade Runner, and almost as many simply replaying the iconic ‘Tears in Rain’ speech on YouTube. This scene alone has a poignancy unmatched, possibly in all of cinema and along with the close-to-perfect Alien, represents the high point in Ridley Scott’s now sadly waning directorial career.
What adds further mystery to this scene is that the terminology being used is never fully explained, it merely conjures abstract and distant science fiction imagery. Add to this Hauer’s own embellishment (the phrase “tears in rain” was his own) and we are left with an impeccably beautiful and at once inscrutable poetic collaboration between director and actor.
Narratively speaking, the genius of this scene is to retroactively switch the perspective and thematic genre of the entire film just before its end. While Roy’s character has certainly dropped hints of this through his erudition and fondness for philosophical and mythical quotations, we have up until this point ostensibly been watching a science fiction film noire involving a breadcrumb trail hunt for dangerous fugitives by a dour detective with a mysterious femme fatale thrown into the mix.
From the point at which his creator, Tyrell, is seen as the weak tiny being that he is, a failed God for an entity who seemed to deserve better, a subtle shift begins to occur where Batty steps into his role as the fallen angel, a tragic hero in the vein of Milton’s Lucifer. In accepting his fate and abandoning his faith in his creator, Batty paradoxically takes control of his destiny, as Lucifer did when he declared that it was “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven”. By declaring this, Lucifer frees himself from God’s power over him, accepting the loss of Paradise so the threat of it can no longer control him. The fallen angel parallel is made fairly explicate earlier in Roy’s paraphrasing of Blake,
“Fiery the angels fell; deep thunder rolled around their shores; burning with the fires of Orc”
Roy’s ultimate triumph is over his slavery. By accepting and embracing his fate, the struggle to overcome it can no longer control him and thus he is set free. In his final moments, he not only breaks free of the yolk of fear his death held over him, but gains control over the fate of the man whose task it was to deliver him to the death he once feared – and thus the master-slave relationship is reversed,
“Quite an experience to live in fear isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave”
He then shows himself to be the superior being by choosing to save Deckard and make him the witness to his final moments. Roy reveals himself to be more true to the Tyrell Corporation’s Strapline (“More Human than Human”) by showing both mercy to his opponent and the fundamental human desire not to die alone.
In the moments following this final gesture, Roy expresses the moving and contradictory nature of beauty. The original script for this scene was somewhat more triumphant and defiant, but Hauer’s delivery is poignant and melancholy. Roy’s simple act of mercy and the moments of wonder he was able to pass on as a result will all ultimately be lost, but the truth they contain reflects an eternal beauty that not even his death could extinguish and we are left wondering whether that final smile he shares with Deckard points to some kind of comfort he drew from this realisation.
I’ve…seen things you people wouldn’t believe
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain
Time to die.